Scale: the Problem of Replacing Single Use Plastics

Two things about fast food, single use plastics: 1. I think the corporate world is sufficiantly on notice that they need to phase these out, 2. I’m pretty confident we can come up with acceptable alternatives from natural sources.

The problem is one of scale. Take plastic straws and think about how many straws just McDonald’s goes through just in the US. I’m willing to bet that all the American paper straw plants in the US right now can’t supply enough paper straws if they tried producing flat out. And of course there is the supply chain: are the paper straw producers suppliers ready to provide enough material for the demand? And the merials also need to be sustainably sourced. Now add all the other US fast food chains: DQ, Burger King, Wendy’s, Hardees all switching over to paper straws. Now add in the mom and pop food joints. In the US alone the demand is going to be tremendous. On top of this, we really have not been making paper straws in the US since the 1960’s - we’ve almost forgotten how.

Plus I’m sure there are other materials we can make disposable drinking straws from besides paper. Equally, I’m pretty sure these are being, frantically, developed.

That’s just straws.

Now add in serving containers, things your condiments come in, disposable eating utensils and changing away from plastics become huge.

And we have not even added in the EU and the rest of the developed and semi-developed world yet. The scale is immense. The opportunity is immense and it boggles the mind.

All this is to say that the problem won’t be solved overnight. It’s going to take a few years, but we need to keep the pressure on lest the food industry will continue using plastics.

Brad Enslen @bradenslen

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